Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Creation or Copy?

Personal Facebook friends have likely already read most of the content of this blog entry, but I felt the need to expand it a little further (new thoughts at the bottom).

I just wanted to share this Facebook exchange. I've had this argument on several occasions when trying to explain to a show entrant why we couldn't consider their piece for a juried show. The below is paraphrased from a post on an art group and deals with someone wanting to sell drawings of celebrities done from published photos. I feel the same way about artists selling their reproductions of famous works…even if they have fallen into the public domain. Thoughts are welcome.

The poster (paraphrased):
"Even if it looks exactly like the photo, it's not a photo. It's a hand work done by an artist in a different medium. Someone might say, "Wow, nice photo" but a realistic drawing makes you see the talent and skill of the artist. I never heard anyone gasp in amazement at a photo of someone." 

My reply:
I have heard it and I have made such exclamations myself. Photography is a very valued art form and can certainly move people emotionally. Technical ability alone does not make one an artist. An artist needs to have vision as well as ability. You could place a dozen artists in the same landscape and come up with 12 different interpretations. By copying someone else's work, you lose YOUR interpretation of it.

Think of it this way...when a photographer (videographer, film producer, insert creative visual profession) creates a photograph, THEY made the creative decisions that led to what you see. They could have done as much as made the decision on the clothing the person wore, the position of the body, the location the person was placed in or perhaps the photographer was simply in the right place at the right time, but THEY still made the decision to snap the shutter at that exact moment. All the creative decision making was done by the photographer, NOT the artist copying the photo. The idea, the preplanning, the creative process is equally (if not more so) as important as the technical ability shown in the final piece.

Simply because you recreate the image in a new medium does not make it yours. If you created a drawing that you carefully designed and had another artist copy it in a different medium and call it theirs, how would you feel?

I am both a fine art painter and graphic artist/photographer. I set up photoshoots for apparel catalogs and deal with professional models. I know what it takes and the million little decisions that add up to just one photo. Copying another creative's work and selling it is a breach of copyright law, as another poster stated. It also does a disservice to you as well as them.

------ Now, I'm not saying that you should never work from source material that you didn't generate. I have created a couple paintings based on photos taken by my youngest sister, who also has an artistic eye. WITH her permission, of course. And often clients provide photos for commissions, though I prefer to take my own unless there is no way to gain access to the subject. Also, repainting the works of master artists can hone your own skills, just be careful that you don't end up using other sources as a crutch and inadvertently stifle your own creativity.  

After reading my Facebook response above, Ed asked, "What about buildings? Are you simply copying the architects artistic creation?" or something along those lines. My response was, "Well, some people would say that in my landscape paintings I was simply copying what God created."  We took it further. Clothing, furniture, the throw rug, a simple plastic cup Ed picked up. The cup was blue plastic with a lid and tapered to fit in a car cupholder and had little ridges on the handle. Someone made those decisions. Someone designed it. We are surrounded by art. Objects that a human was inspired to create and frequently we pay little or no attention to them. Imagine a world where everything was purely utilitarian. A world where objects held no aesthetic qualities. I think that these qualities affect us, affect our moods on a mostly unconscious level. Without the beauty, I know I would be a little less happy, less content. Ed will tell you that I like my 'things.' They range from antique furniture (imperfect pieces that you can see have had a long life before me) and art glass containers to a little shot glass that I've filled with found feathers, also a collection of fossils, more found objects, that I keep arranged in a semicircle from largest to smallest. I am admittedly a packrat. I see beauty in all these objects no matter what the accepted societal value of them might be. 

But I've strayed from the point. He talked himself into the answer before I had a chance to respond. Paraphrasing… "If you are photographing or painting a building, you are deciding the angle and the time of day that you take it, the lighting. As long as the final product is about more than just the building, as long as it's in a context, then I think it wouldn't be just copying." I'd agree and I think it applies to all the other objects we interact with as well, but it would do us artists some good to remember that many of the 'things' we paint are in fact the product of another creative mind and give a little nod to that artist as well. 

The Painting...

"Buster Brown"
Acrylic on Board
17 3/4" x 14 3/4"
note: dimensions are unframed size
comes framed